12 Must-Have People Management Skills for Managers (+ How to Improve Them)
Being in charge isn't a finish line; it's the starting point of a never-ending learning curve. That's why people management skills matter. They help you unlock the potential of your most valuable resource—your people.
How you manage your people has huge implications for your organization's success. Treat them well, train them well, and keep them engaged and motivated, and your business will reap the benefits.
This article will cover 12 indispensable people management skills every manager needs. And because we're in this for your growth, we also share the blueprint for sharpening them.
Remember the best manager you ever had? Now, aim to surpass them.
🌟 What are people management skills?
People management skills are the abilities and attributes necessary to lead, motivate, and support employees to meet organizational goals. These skills encompass a range of competencies, such as effective communication, conflict resolution, empathy, team-building, and providing constructive feedback and recognition.
People management skills are essential for managers as they impact critical business outcomes.
Managers account for 70% of the variance in engagement of their teams, according to Gallup.
"When managers show up to work with a deep understanding of how they'll use their strengths, they will have better conversations, greater performance results, and higher engagement from their team." Austin Suellentrop and E. Beth Bauman of Gallup.
Engaged employees produce better business outcomes, Gallup's research has shown. Teams with highly engaged employees show substantial benefits over teams with low engagement, such as:
- 81% less absenteeism;
- 10% more customer loyalty;
- 18% more productivity;
- 23% higher profitability.
Managers with strong people management skills foster a more productive environment through better engagement.
"Employees have the power of choice, and it's trumping the authoritarian hiring and firing power of paternalistic companies," explains Kara Dennison in a recent Forbes article, "—people don't quit jobs. They quit managers."
Managers who promote a respectful and inclusive environment and have the skills to empower, advocate for, and empathize with their people are likelier to retain their best talent.
Managers with well-developed communications skills boost efficiency as their people understand what's required of them. This improves employee retention, "as people usually prefer working with managers who communicate clearly and inspire them," suggests Indeed.
As recent research has highlighted, leadership behavior impacts job performance, and managers with strong people management skills drive better team performance.
Skilled managers set clear expectations, provide timely feedback, and keep their team members motivated. This leads to enhanced job performance.
Leadership diversity drives innovation and improves the financial performance of businesses, studies by BCG have shown.
Plus, companies with above-average diversity report higher revenues than companies with below-average diversity—by as much as 19%.
People management skills equip leaders to handle diverse teams, peers, and stakeholders better, setting the foundations for increased innovation and creativity.
➡️ Hone your managers' skills by identifying their strengths and weaknesses through comprehensive leadership assessments.
💼 12 Must-have people management skills for managers
Here are the essential people management skills, core competencies, and leadership skills that your managers must have to bring out the best in your people.
Coaching is a "professional helping relationship" that focuses on the goals of the person being coached, explain researchers Jonathan Passmore and Yi-Ling Lai.
In a work environment, coaching guides your people through personal and professional career development. It involves understanding individual strengths and weaknesses, setting clear goals, and providing consistent support to help achieve those goals.
Managers can focus on more strategic matters, avoid micromanaging, and allow their people to demonstrate their competencies through good coaching.
"The beauty of coaching is that leaders do not need to know everything in order to be effective; instead, they need to know how to empower those around them," suggests Schultz.
When managing people, coaching helps fill knowledge gaps, refine skills, boost morale and motivation, and prepare employees for higher responsibilities. This leads to higher productivity and a more engaged workforce.
➡️ Help your managers become exceptional coaches with a targeted roadmap for effective coaching skills training.
Feedback is a two-way process in which managers share their observations with their direct reports, and employees have the opportunity to reflect and respond.
Your managers play a crucial role in developing and retaining your people by giving them feedback. Effective feedback should be:
- Timely—shortly after an event to allow immediate action if required
- Specific—addressing a particular behavior or event rather than a general reference
- Objective—based on factual circumstances rather than feelings or personal preferences
- Constructive—non-judgmental and directed towards actionable improvement
- Consistent—regular and systematic
Feedback helps your people know where they stand in their roles, what they're doing right, and where there's room for improvement. Without it, they may continue being unproductive or miss out on development opportunities.
When your managers deliver feedback well, your people will feel more aligned with your organization's objectives and be aware of what's required of them. Constructive feedback boosts confidence and morale, leading to higher productivity through a more proactive approach and better decision-making.
➡️ Help your people leverage their strengths by training your managers to give and receive effective feedback.
Building and inspiring trust
Building trust in the workplace means creating honest, open communication and relationships between colleagues, without fear of disloyalty, according to Indeed. It involves transparency, consistency, and showing integrity in the workplace.
Trust can be emotional, focused on personal relationships, or practical, built on professional interactions. When your people feel trust, they'll feel secure, experience less stress, and have faith in their colleagues and leaders.
They'll also be more open to feedback, more willing to take on challenges, and more committed to your organization's goals and vision.
When your managers build trust, their direct reports will feel safe to share their ideas, voice concerns, and collaborate effectively. This creates an open environment in which innovation and creativity flourish.
➡️ Are your managers struggling to build trust with their remote employees? Learn how to overcome challenges and inspire teams as remote leaders.
Conflict resolution means finding peaceful solutions for disagreements. In the workplace, it involves constructively identifying, addressing, and resolving disputes among team members.
Conflicts arise due to differences in opinions, perspectives, personality types, or professional approaches. When left unchecked, conflicts impact morale and hinder collaboration and productivity.
By skillfully resolving conflicts, your managers prevent disagreements from escalating and turn them into professional growth opportunities. This helps team cohesion and produces an environment in which diverse ideas are welcome. Your people will feel safe, valued, and heard, allowing scope for innovative thinking and productivity.
Enabling and empowering employees
Employee enablement means giving your people everything they need to do their jobs to the best of their abilities. It involves giving them authority, resources, confidence, and empowerment to make decisions and take ownership of their roles and responsibilities.
Empowered employees are more engaged, motivated, and committed to their roles. This leads to higher quality and more innovative workplace outcomes.
Effective communication is one of the most influential people management skills for your managers to master—it underpins most interactions between your managers and their direct reports. It involves clearly conveying information, expectations, and feedback, active listening, and understanding other people's perspectives.
Poor communication results in misunderstandings and a lack of clarity, leading to errors, delays, and missed opportunities. It can leave your people feeling like they're not being heard, impacting their morale and motivation.
With effective communication skills, your managers will help your people understand their roles and expectations and how they align with your organization's goals. Your people should feel a greater sense of trust, as this often flourishes in an environment of clear and open communication.
Effective communication also boosts productivity by increasing transparency, encouraging teamwork, and promoting better feedback among your people.
Recognition is acknowledging and showing appreciation for your people's efforts. You can give recognition verbally or through awards, promotions, and gifts (tangible or intangible).
You can recognize your people for:
- Achievements—meeting goals, charitable efforts, or gaining skills
- Demonstrating company values—fostering teamwork, raising morale, or bringing to life your organization's values
- Going above and beyond—taking the initiative, challenging norms, or improving outcomes
- Milestones—birthdays, promotions, or tenure milestones
When you recognize your people, you'll make them feel valued for what they do. You'll also boost their sense of well-being and belonging at work, leading to stronger productivity, retention, and engagement.
Recognition is precious if your people work in fast-paced environments with tight deadlines and under high pressure. They'll feel like their circumstances are understood and their work is appreciated, reinforcing their loyalty and commitment to your organization.
➡️ Looking for creative ways to recognize your people? Check out these 42 meaningful employee recognition ideas to boost engagement.
Empathy is about understanding and sharing the feelings of others. Managers with empathy can recognize the emotions in their people and respond with understanding and compassion.
Empathy is a "vital leadership competency," according to the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), and it's emerging as one of the most crucial people management skills in modern organizations. CCL's research finds that workplaces that demonstrate empathy perform better.
CCL suggests the following ways to increase empathy in the workplace:
- Watch out for signs of burnout
- Show genuine interest in the needs and aspirations of employees
- Be willing to help employees with personal problems
- Show compassion when employees disclose a personal loss
In modern workplaces, employees come from diverse backgrounds and circumstances. Empathetic managers connect with each team member on a personal level, whatever their circumstances, fostering trust and open communication.
An empathetic management style creates a supportive environment where employees feel safe and express themselves freely. This boosts team cohesion and collaboration, leading to increased productivity.
Forward planning and strategic thinking
Forward planning and strategic thinking involve anticipating future needs, challenges, and opportunities and developing strategies to address them. They require a long-term vision, critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and an ability to align team efforts with organizational goals.
By using forward planning and strategic thinking, your managers are better prepared for circumstances as they unfold and can help their teams remain effective. This leads to better team management, clarity of purpose, and better productivity. It also helps your people feel more secure in their roles during times of uncertainty or when unexpected circumstances arise, supporting their morale and a sense of purpose.
Managing people's performance
Managing employee performance involves monitoring team members' performances and evaluating outcomes against their performance objectives.
Good managers ensure that their people meet their objectives by setting clear expectations, providing regular feedback, and implementing performance improvement plans when necessary.
When performance issues arise, effective performance management helps identify those performing well (and those not) and highlights any performance gaps. By addressing these promptly, managers help their teams remain productive and efficient.
➡️ Looking for guidance on the challenges, latest techniques, and ideas for managing performance at your organization? Check out our comprehensive guide on managing employee performance.
Delegation is transferring responsibility for specific tasks to other people. A people manager delegates tasks to team members based on their skills, expertise, and capacity. Managers who delegate successfully trust their people's abilities and clearly communicate expectations.
Effective delegation is an essential people management skill in modern organizations. Your managers don't have all of the knowledge, technical skills, or time to handle everything themselves. By delegating tasks, they can focus on leadership and strategic matters while ensuring operational activities are executed appropriately.
Delegation benefits your people by empowering them, i.e., giving them responsibilities and showing trust in their capabilities.
Great managers are skillful delegators, allowing them to "focus on higher-value activities while also keeping employees engaged with greater autonomy," explains Lauren Landry of the Harvard Business School.
The sense of empowerment that delegation gives your people boosts their confidence and motivation, leading to higher productivity. It promotes a sense of ownership among team members. Plus, they'll produce high-quality outcomes if assigned tasks suit their capabilities.
High-performance teams underpin successful organizations and are a testament to effective team building. By fostering a cohesive, collaborative, and positive team environment, a good manager strengthens relationships, enhances trust, and improves communication in the team.
Team building is a critical people management skill, resulting in more motivated and engaged team members. This leads to less conflict, fewer performance issues, and stronger business outcomes.
👀 12 Must-have people management skills and their impact—at a glance
🌱 How to improve people management skills
How can your managers improve their people management skills? The key is to engage in activities that deliver the core attributes of each skill and reinforce them through a cycle of feedback, further training, and ongoing development.
Here are some specific actions your managers can take to improve each essential people management skill.
- Learn continuously—attend courses or workshops on coaching techniques, areas for development, and leadership training.
- Set clear goals—adopt SMART goals for clarity and focus.
- Check-in regularly—schedule one-on-ones to discuss progress, give support, and learn from employees' viewpoints.
- Seek feedback—improve coaching through employee feedback.
- Be specific—provide clear examples that aren't vague.
- Be objective—focus on behaviors and outcomes, not personal attributes.
- Review feedback techniques—reflect on past feedback and identify areas for improvement.
Building and inspiring trust
- Lead by example—be reliable, consistent, and show integrity.
- Communicate openly—promote an environment where your people feel safe sharing ideas, concerns, and feedback.
- Admit mistakes—acknowledge mistakes and take corrective action.
- Make employees feel heard—involve team members in decisions that affect them.
- Be consistent—apply rules and policies consistently to all team members.
- Encourage open dialogue—ensure conflicting parties feel heard and understood through one-on-one discussions or mediated sessions.
- Improve with training—master tools and techniques for handling disputes.
- Choose a neutral location—mediate conflicts on neutral ground so no party feels disadvantaged.
- Focus on solutions—foster collaboration through practical solutions rather than assigning blame.
Enabling and empowering employees
- Provide the required tools and resources—give access to the tools and resources your people need for their jobs.
- Encourage autonomy—trust your people to make decisions and take responsibility for their outcomes.
- Prioritize employee development—equip your people with on-the-job and off-the-job training, courses, and workshops.
- Provide tailored learning—recognize and cater to individual learning needs.
- Foster growth—encourage your people to take on new challenges and experiences that lead to professional development.
- Listen actively—pay attention to your people's feedback and seek to understand their perspectives.
- Convey information clearly—be concise, to the point, and avoid jargon when messaging so that it's easy to understand.
- Encourage two-way communication—Solicit your people's thoughts and ideas through open communication and a welcoming approach to feedback.
- Use technology—leverage communication tools and platforms to enhance the scope and quality of information sharing among teams.
- Show appreciation—showcase team members' achievements through regular appreciation sessions.
- Offer targeted rewards—understand what rewards motivate individual team members (e.g., monetary, time off, or professional growth) and tailor rewards accordingly.
- Celebrate milestones—acknowledge your people's birthdays, project completions, work anniversaries, and personal milestones.
- Set clear recognition criteria—ensure that recognition is based on criteria easily understood by your people so they know what to strive for.
- Facilitate peer recognition—deploy feedback platforms for peers to recognize their colleagues and promote mutual respect.
- Avoid assumptions—ask open-ended questions to understand employees' perspectives.
- Commit to training—develop empathy skills through training and workshops.
- Maintain an open-door policy—foster an environment where your people feel comfortable sharing their concerns and know they'll be heard.
Forward planning and strategic thinking
- Set objectives—define clear short-term and long-term goals for team members that are aligned with your organization's priorities.
- Stay informed—keep abreast of market trends, industry developments, and technological advancements.
- Engage in scenario planning—envision a range of future scenarios and devise strategies to deal with them.
Managing people performance
- Set clear expectations—clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each team member so that they understand what's required of them.
- Give constructive feedback—provide specific, actionable, and timely feedback that focuses on strengths and areas for improvement.
- Invest in training and development—ensure your people's skills are relevant and up-to-date.
- Recognize and reward performance—acknowledge employees who perform well to recognize them and motivate others.
- Know the team's capabilities—allocate tasks according to the strengths and weaknesses of team members.
- Define tasks clearly—be specific about each task's requirements, timeframes, and deliverables.
- Empower and trust the team—provide guidance without micromanaging.
- Monitor progress—check in periodically on the progress of tasks and address obstacles.
- Promote collaboration—communicate openly and encourage actively sharing ideas, concerns, and feedback.
- Foster team cohesion—organize team building activities to strengthen relationships and promote trust.
- Encourage cross-functional collaboration—broaden perspectives and encourage innovation through projects that involve different departments or teams.
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Consult these 7 development plan examples for leadership for extra inspiration.
➡️ Build your next generation of leaders with Zavvy
At Zavvy, we have everything that you need to boost your managers' performance management skills. We have the tools, platforms, knowledge base, and expertise to bring out the best in your people and create top-performing employees.
Zavvy's offerings include:
- 🌱 Employee development software that helps your people take charge of their careers through skills, training, and development.
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- 📈 Innovative performance review software for fair and meaningful performance reviews with unprecedented insights.
- 💬 One-on-one meeting software to help give structure and alignment to your one-on-ones.
📅 Book a free demo to see how you can bring out the full potential of your people through a skilled approach to people management.
What are the 7 essential qualities of people management?
Seven essential people management skills are coaching, giving feedback, conflict resolution, employee enablement, communication, recognition, and team building.
What are the key roles in people management?
The key roles in people management are:
- Stretching employees through work experiences
- Facilitating relationships with key leaders
- Offering advice and guidance
- Encouraging learning and growth
- Championing career success
What is an example of people management?
An example of people management is team building: creating a cohesive environment where trust, collaboration, and innovation flourish, producing strong personal and organizational outcomes.